How To Teach Almost Anything At Home

article image
Tutoring and teaching others can be a rewarding experience.  More importantly for some self-employers, it can be a source of income.

I was born during the depression and my earliest years were spent surrounded by people who “got by” by being more or less self-employed. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always had an insatiable hunger for every scrap of information I can find about home businesses, start-on-a-shoestring enterprises, and work-on-your-own ventures. That interest, of course, is reflected in MOTHER, which always contains one or more do-it-yourself employment ideas.

Over the years I’ve collected thousands of books, clippings, reports, tracts, treatises, and pieces of personal correspondence from, by, and about the people who’ve successfully set themselves up in some kind of self-employment venture. One of the best buys for the money in this work-on-your-own reference library, I feel, is 101 Practical Ways to Make Money at Home. And here’s a short excerpt from that book.–JS.

Giving Lessons

“Those who can,” runs an old saying, “do. Those who can’t, teach.” Stripped of its cynicism, the proverb offers encouragement to those with marketable abilities but no way to put them to work directly to make money. If you have expert knowledge in some field — and the patience and skill to teach what you know to others — you may be able to earn extra income with very little investment other than your own time.

General Guidelines

Teaching is an art in itself, quite separate from knowledge of the subject being taught. Some of the world’s greatest scholars are terrible teachers. If you have never taught before, you may be surprised (perhaps dismayed!) when you discover how much time, close analysis, and self-discipline it takes to organize a course in anything.

Your competition may be not only other private individuals or schools but adult education programs in the public schools and classes organized by Y’s, civic groups, clubs, and possibly even local stores (to promote the use of their products). Check all these to determine what you’ll be up against, and also to find out what others are charging for the kind of instruction you intend to offer.

Zoning laws usually do not apply to home classes (though it is always wise to check). But any kind of sign, even a small card in a window, will probably require permission.

Lesson Plans and Lesson Payment

If you are the slightest bit rusty in the skill you plan to teach, brush up on it before you open shop. Good word-of-mouth is essential to this business; if you let your first pupils down, it may take you a long time to get any more.

Also essential is advance lesson preparation. Before you take your first pupil, not only should the entire course be outlined and divided into lessons of appropriate length, but each segment should have its own lesson plan, with an estimate of the time it will take to cover each topic or technique to be taught. Without such a plan, it’s easy to be diverted by interesting but nonessential matters, until eventually the whole course gets out of hand and your pupils do not learn as much as they should.

For individual lessons it’s traditional to charge by the hour, with no commitment by the pupil to take any specified number of lessons. Group lessons are sometimes charged for in the same way. It is preferable, however, to set a flat fee for a course containing a specified number of lessons. This fee should be payable in advance, with no refunds granted (except in the case of emergencies) after the second lesson.

Whether the teacher or the pupils pay for the cost of materials varies. Generally, materials used primarily for demonstration purposes (food for cooking classes, flowers for flower arranging, etc.) are the responsibility of the teacher, even though the pupils consume, or take home, the result. Materials that the pupils work with and that become their permanent possessions (needlework supplies, gardening tools) are paid for by them.

Publicity for Your Business

Run a classified ad (under “Instruction”) in local newspapers; take a listing in the classified telephone directory.

Write individual letters, or have flyers prepared, to send to schools, libraries, clubs, churches, community organizations, and any other group whose members might be interested in the subject you are prepared to teach. If an organization has a bulletin board, ask permission to post a flyer, or your business card, there.

Giving lessons, as an educational activity, sometimes qualifies for free publicity, so write up a description of the courses you offer and send it to women’s page editors of local papers. Cooking classes, classes in gardening techniques and flower arranging, and swimming lessons for young children are examples of projects whose intrinsic interest has produced feature stories even in big-city newspapers.

Other sources of publicity (and perhaps promotional tie-ins) for some subjects may be merchants in your town. In return, for example, for permission to exhibit posters advertising your classes in the store, you might agree to give a cooking demonstration in the store of a local appliance dealer, or a swimming lesson on the premises of a swimming pool dealer.

Get as much personal exposure as you can in other ways too. If you teach cooking, needlework or sewing, gardening or flower arranging, display the products of your skill at local fairs or shows; if you teach music, offer to perform at church, community, and school affairs and put on student recitals. Keeping in the public eye will be your best form of advertising.

Gardening Lessons

If you have a particularly green thumb, and live in a suburb where there are a lot of recent refugees from the city, you should have no trouble attracting students eager to learn how to make their gardens grow. Needless to say, your own garden must be a showcase; it will be both your best advertisement and the laboratory for your classes.

For real novices, you could offer a course that starts in March (earlier in warm sections of the country) with the planting of new roses and the pruning of old ones, sowing of seeds in flats, testing the soil for acidity and good drainage, and so on, and continues through to late fall with the planting of bulbs, propagation of plants, sowing of seeds of hardy annuals, and all the other many attentions a garden demands.

Basic information, such as the identification of various flowers and plants and their classification, and types of garden tools and their uses, should be an important part of the course. But each lesson should also be planned to be complete in itself and to treat one or two subjects in depth, so that even experienced gardeners, who nevertheless want additional information on particular topics, such as planning a rock garden or growing plants under artificial light, will be attracted to some of the sessions.

Gardening lessons generally last from two to three hours and are held once a week, once every two weeks, or once a month, according to demand. Depending upon the duration of the lesson and the area, fees may range from $3.50 to $5 per session.

Gardening is thirsty work; at the close of the session, it’s a nice touch to offer students coffee or hot tea in cool weather, iced tea in warm.

Lessons on Flower Arrangement

In many cities and suburban areas, there is great interest in learning how to arrange flowers. Often the local garden club or Y offers classes. But in some communities the demand for instruction is strong enough to support private classes as well.

To teach flower arranging, you must be adept in all the various styles, from traditional to abstract and including the demanding Oriental techniques. Courses that offer all these are generally the most popular, though in some areas you may be able to specialize-or at least offer several different courses, each devoted to a single style.

If you live in a suburb, you will, of course, use flowers from your own garden whenever possible, but even so you must count on some expenditure for flowers and foliage from florists, and for suitable containers and accessories in addition to those you already have.

For an idea of what to charge, check the fees asked by others offering such instruction in your own or nearby communities. Countrywide, these generally range from about $2 an hour upward for group instruction.

Books on Flower Arrangement

Encyclopedia of Flower Arrangements, J.G. Conway. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, N.Y., 1957.

How to Arrange Flowers for All Occasions, Katherine N. Cutler. Doubleday & Co., Inc., Garden City, N.Y., 1967.

Cooking Classes

Everyone is more sophisticated these days, and that goes for tastes in food as in other things. In addition, for many women cooking is both a daily duty and an absorbing hobby–creative, rewarding, and capable of almost endless variation.

The result is seen not only in the proliferation of cookbooks–there are over 1,200 in print-but in the popularity of courses that treat cooking as a fine art. If you are a specialist in a particular type of cuisine–French (above all), Italian, Chinese–or in a branch of cookery, such as baking or dessert making, you might consider imparting your expertise to others, for a fee.

The best location for such a venture is a city or suburb where a good deal of entertaining goes on and hostesses vie with one another in offering gourmet meals to their guests. If you offer demonstration classes only, you won’t need any special facilities other than your own kitchen; it need only be big enough for a group to gather around as you demonstrate. If, on the other hand, the students are to participate in the preparation, not only must your kitchen be roomy but you must have extra utensils and equipment.

Advance planning is particularly important for a cooking course; it means drawing up lesson plans and then performing a trial run for each. You may have to change some of your preparation methods, eliminating shortcuts you have been using for years and substituting exact measurements for instinct in determining quantities. It is important too, to time yourself in making the recipes you plan to teach–and don’t forget to allow for students’ questions. Some teachers distribute mimeographed copies of the lesson recipes to the class; others ask pupils to bring a notebook along for copying the instructions and making preparation notes.

In addition to gourmet cooking classes, there may be a demand in some areas for instruction in basic cooking, low-calorie cooking, or in cooking for those on special regimes such as low-sodium, diabetic, or allergy diets.

What you should charge for your classes will depend on the going rates in your area, and whether you offer demonstration or participation instruction. Generally, rates average around $5 to $10 per pupil per two-hour session, though cooks with a big reputation can sometimes charge more — perhaps as much as $15 to $30 per session.

Sewing Classes

The demand for instruction in the fundamentals of sewing is pretty well satisfied, in most communities, by such free instruction as that offered by sewing machine and pattern companies. In addition, Y’s and adult education programs offer lessons in basic sewing at low cost.

More advanced instruction is something else. Correspondence schools do a big business in teaching the tricks of tailoring and couture dressmaking to women who want to go beyond the basics and turn out a professional-looking job. If you yourself are an expert sewer, you may well tap the same market for live classes.

You can rent the additional sewing machines needed; there should be one for every two pupils. You will also need one, or perhaps two, large cutting tables. Students should be expected to provide their own materials, patterns, and sewing equipment.

Fees are lower for sewing lessons than for some other types of instruction. For a special service such as yours, though, you should be able to charge more than the going rates for basic sewing lessons. Check what these are in your community and then raise yours accordingly.

Needlework Classes

Giving lessons in various kinds of needlework–creative embroidery (commonly called crewel work), needlepoint, crochet, knitting, rug hooking–may be carried on as part of a bigger venture or for itself alone. It has the big advantage of requiring absolutely no investment, since students usually bring their own materials. (You may, however, want to make up basic kits for teaching each technique and supply them to students at cost.)

What you can charge for lessons depends a great deal on where you live. In big cities, group instruction rates are usually about $5 per person for a two-hour class; in smaller communities, $2 to $3 is more likely. Individual instruction is rare and mostly confined to well-known needle women, who ask as much as $5 to $ 10 an hour.

Music Lessons

In any moderately affluent community, there are scores of parents who are willing to pay for music lessons for their offspring. If you are a particularly good teacher of a popular instrument like the piano, or the only teacher available for an exotic one like the flute, you may be able to build up a steady business. (The most popular instruments, after the piano, in order, are: violin, guitar, trumpet, accordion, saxophone, clarinet, and flute.)

One word of caution: Before you even consider music teaching, which gives rise to a certain amount of noise, check to make sure it’s permitted in your neighborhood. If you live in an apartment, consult your lease or your landlord; if you own your own home, see the town clerk.

Customers for music lessons are almost exclusively children, which means, of course, that patience should be one of your strong points. Although academic background is rarely important for teaching the other subjects discussed in this chapter, parents of music students usually inquire into the teacher’s credentials. It’s wise, therefore, to assemble evidence (including letters of recommendation from your own former teachers) of your training and experience to show to inquirers.

Rates charged for music lessons vary widely depending upon the instrument and the area (and of course upon the reputation of the instructor). A typical charge for a half hour of elementary or intermediate instruction in guitar is $3 to $5. Piano lessons are usually higher, averaging from $4 to $7 per hour.

Tutoring Children

Tutoring is no longer confined to students who can’t make passing grades. Today, some parents begin worrying whether their children are going to get into the college of their choice when they first enter kindergarten. By the time the child reaches high school, the pressure is really on, and a tutor is often called in to help boost grades from C’s to B’s, or even B’s to A’s.

To impress anxious parents with your ability to do the job, you need former teaching experience or a sufficiently impressive academic background. A college degree is essential — and it helps if the degree is from a “name” institution (there’s a lot of snobbery involved in education). As for the community where you hope to ply your trade, it must obviously be one where the majority of the students are college-bound.

If there is a tutoring agency in your community (and you don’t mind going outside your own home to tutor), you might consider registering with it. (Check for such agencies in the classified telephone directory under “Tutoring.”) You will probably get more pupils that way, but you will also have to pay the agency its commission. The number of pupils you can expect, either with an agency or as a freelance, also depends on how many subjects you are qualified to teach.

Your pupils will probably be divided into two main groups: children who are having difficulty in school, and high school students preparing for College Boards. Reading difficulties are often the root of the trouble in younger children in the first group; to untangle them, some knowledge of the techniques of remedial reading, as well as a great deal of patience, are needed.

If you work as a freelance, any contacts you have in teaching circles will be very helpful in getting you pupils. If you don’t have any, ask for an appointment to see the principals and/or individual teachers in local schools and discuss with them the service you offer and your credentials. If they approve of you, they will become the best source of referrals.

Current rates for tutoring range from $2 to $5 an hour, with higher rates in big cities and on the East and West coasts than in small towns and the South and Midwest.

Bridge lessons

Are you a bridge fiend? A terror in local tournaments? Everybody’s favorite partner because you always help him win? Then you might scout the possibilities in your community for earning a little money by teaching your skills to others.

In some communities, the local Y or the town’s adult education program offers bridge classes, but this needn’t stop you, for many people might prefer the more social atmosphere of classes held in a private home. Your main problem will be to let prospective clients know of your existence. Dropping word of your availability to friends and acquaintances and writing to all the clubs, the PTA, and church groups in the community may bring you in your first students, after which word-of-mouth will help. You can also try running classified ads in local newspapers.

Unless you have a standard of comparison in similar classes given by others in the community, you will have to feel your way in setting fees. But even if you charge only $1 an hour and have a single foursome to instruct, you might make as much as $12 in an afternoon.

Nature Study Classes

The recent concern over the environment has focused attention on the wonders of the natural world that lie all about us, and that we are in danger of destroying unless we are more careful. Consequently, the climate is particularly favorable for anyone who is able and willing to reveal some of nature’s amazing workings to those newly interested in the subject.

Depending on the age level of your audience, which might be anywhere from small children to gray-haired adults, you might hold classes on local plant and animal fife in your own back yard or take your students on field trips to meadows, swamps, woods, or streams in the vicinity. You won’t make much money. Many people who will spend $3 or $4 to see a mediocre movie will balk at being asked for a similar amount to be shown a much more exciting drama in nature’s hidden world. However, any income from this source will be in addition to the satisfaction derived from educating others to the importance of protecting a heritage that, once lost, can never be recovered.


The number of women who periodically vow to “do something” about a less-than-shapely figure must run into the millions. Many of them do go on (and off) various reducing diets. But when it comes to shaping up with exercise–firming flabby muscles and working on unsightly bulges in particular areas–most people lack the will power to persevere on their own.

That is where you can come in, if you have a basic understanding of the principles of physical training–perhaps from having taken a good exercise course yourself.

Classes that promise the morale-boosting presence of fellow sufferers exercising to music in pleasant surroundings, with the guidance and encouragement of an instructor, may well attract enough customers to provide you with a little to a lot of extra income.

The equipment needed is limited to inexpensive exercise mats and a record player; more important is your attitude, which should be both firm and supportive, businesslike yet relaxed enough to make the whole occasion seem like a social one and therefore almost fun.

It’s important to tailor your exercise program to the age and physical condition of each of your clients. Refuse to take really obese women, or those with a history of high blood pressure, heart trouble or other circulatory ailments, unless they get the approval of a doctor. And don’t make any promises you can’t keep. Warn your students that exercise won’t really take off much weight. (It would take an hour of fast bicycling, for example, to compensate for the extra calories contributed by a single piece of apple pie.) But it can help dieting produce results, and make the dieter feel and look better in the process. Have each of your students write down her weight and inch-loss goals, together with her present measurements in vital areas, and occasionally help her check her progress.

Members of reducing clubs are good prospects for classes like these; ask to visit a club session to explain your program. You might also try handing out flyers outside health food stores, supermarkets, and beauty salons. Spring — when the thought of the coming bathing-suit season panics many women — is a particularly good time to launch your project. Gauge how much to charge by checking fees for exercise courses given by the local Y and other establishments.

Shorthand and Typing Lessons

Although most high schools offer typing and shorthand as electives, there are a great many girls who don’t take them, and then find they can’t get a job without at least knowing how to type. The result is a large pool of potential students for secretarial schools — and for you, if you have the requisite skills — to draw from.

You won’t be able to compete with the latter for students who want training in a variety of office skiffs or who are looking for the assurance of a placement service after they finish a course. On the other hand, there are lots of girls who just want the basics — mostly a typing speed of 40 to 50 words per minute — to get them past the personnel office. If there are enough of these in your community, or of girls who want only typing and shorthand, you should be able to lure quite a few away from bigger competitors by virtue of the lower fees you will be able to charge.

You will need some money for investment, though, since you can’t teach typing without having a late-model office machine for each student in the class. It will be best to rent or lease these, perhaps together with the necessary typewriter tables and chairs, and turn them in for new models at frequent intervals. You will also have to allow something for supplies. For a classroom, choose the best-lighted and ventilated room in your house and clear it of all unnecessary furniture in order to create a businesslike atmosphere.

High school girls and recent graduates will be your best prospects. Place ads in local school papers, and try to get permission to post flyers on school bulletin boards. An effective but more expensive way to reach customers is to get lists of recent high school graduates (girls) and mail each one a letter describing your service. Emphasize the price advantage you offer by quoting the rates of other schools. A typical instruction rate for a commercial typing course consisting of 1 1/2 to 2 hours per day, 5 days a week, is around $40 a month (check these against rates prevailing in your community). By operating out of your own home, you can charge considerably less than this and still make money.

Reprinted by permission from 101 Practical Ways to Make Money at Home by the editors of Good Housekeeping. Copyright 1971 by the Hearst Corporation.